Nicole Paone's 'Friendsgiving' Falls Flat as a Holiday Comedy

Molly and Abby share a post-dinner snack
Malin Ackerman and Kat Dennings in a scene from FRIENDSGIVING

Comedies sent against the backdrop of a holiday celebration are a time honored tradition. During these films, families, either genetic or chosen, come together and try to have a happy holiday without strife, causing many funny, awkward, and heartwarming moments. Whatever the tone, the trick to making such pictures is to create a scenario that makes viewers wish they could be on site to share in the hijinks. Movies such as Thomas Bezucha's The Family Stone (2005) or Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays (1995) come to mind as excellent examples. Rather than join their ranks, Friendsgiving, the latest holiday comedy fails to impress or stir up the holiday cheer. With stereotypical characters that fit every trope in the book and a lackluster script with few actual moments of humor, Friendsgiving will have viewers longing for a frozen TV dinner at home.

Friendsgiving is directed and written by Nicol Paone and is her directorial feature-length debut. Molly (Malin Ackerman; Watchmen) and Abby (Kat Dennings; Charlie Bartlett) are best friends. Both have fallen on hard times because of failed relationships, but they plan to celebrate Thanksgiving together with a girls' night in, involving food, booze, and dessert therapy. But when Molly mindlessly invites other friends without consulting Abby, what started as a party for two escalates into an out-of-control madcap dinner with more dishes than the oven can handle and guests that threaten the peace between these bosom pals. 

Lauren and Dan at dinner
[L-R] Deon Cole and Aisha Tyler in a scene from FRIENDSGIVING

On the page, Friendsgiving has all the ingredients for a successful holiday romp: two main characters at a crossroads in life, a slew of oddball side characters (most of them played by recognizable actors in the comedy field; even Jane Seymour takes to the screen), and a setup bound to create conflict, chaos, and tender moments. Unfortunately, none of these ingredients works as expected. Ackerman and Dennings, both who have done good work in earlier roles, lack the chemistry expected from best friends. So their moments of closeness appear manufactured. The side characters seem like caricatures rather than real people. We've got Molly's new love interest, Molly's past estranged lover, Molly's meddling mother, who acts more like a sister, token black friends, token gay friends, token vegan friends, people with unfortunate plastic surgeries gone wrong, and parents who want breaks from their kids. Very few moments end up playing as funny. Paone throws every trick into the box -- adults using drugs, loud relatives, friends making out with one another, racy humor -- but it all falls flat due to the lack of chemistry and the sheer volume of activity going on. Paone tries to stuff too much into this Thanksgiving picture, and many threads are left untied by the end that could have offered some heart. Abby's type-A organization she exerts to bring the feast fully cooked and on-time to the table provides the one chuckle-worthy morsel of humor. 

Gunnar and Helen share a dance
[L-R] Jane Seymour and Ryan Hansen in a scene from FRIENDSGIVING

Paone's background in short comedy sketches works against her here. Much of the film seems like short improv sketches pushed together that don't work as a story concept. In one example, Molly has invited several possible dates for Abby, hoping she might connect with one. In each example, the different candidates address the camera directly to share their dating profile "elevator pitch." But this is the only time that this technique is used, which feels random and non-purposeful. If all the guests broke the fourth wall as part of the script, perhaps it would work as a comedic touch. 

Friendsgiving falls flat as a holiday comedy. While audiences may hunger to observe a large holiday celebration during a year when folks are isolated and home alone, their craving would be better filled sampling a favorite holiday classic from the past.

Release Info: Available in select theaters, On Demand, and Digital October 23, 2020. 

Final Score: 2 out of 5. 

Friendsgiving poster